I was dissappointed with it as both a horror film and as a Hollywood arthouse film. Like most of Aronofsky’s films he gets alot of mixed reviews, he’s not quite as controversial as the similarly divisive Lars Von Triers, but his films explore similar themes about sex, gender, morality and God. He’s one of those idiosyncratic directors like Tarantino, Lynch or Von Triers, who you either love or hate.
On its release I was impressed with PI (1998), a kindof homage to Lynch’s Eraserhead, and thought he’d go on to be the next David Fincher. Requiem for a Dream (2000) was his followup, based on a novel by the controversal writer Hubert Selby Jr, and which felt like it was designed to be a cult classic. It felt like he’d made definitive drug movie filled with scenes of graphic sex and violence, but which wasn’t nearly as funny or stylish as Trainspotting or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, despite the fact that it held the world record for the most edits for any motion picture for a short time.
Next it was The Fountain (2006), his first big budget feature which ambitiously explored themes about mythology, life, death and the universe, but again seemed obsessed with visual design and special effects at the expense of storytelling. Then he made The Wrestler (2008). A radically different change from his usual visceral style. A simple plot, excellent cast and an almost European-style camera work. By far my favourite film.
Then came his biggest film to date, Noah (2014), a biblical action adventure film, and which except for its images of mass hysteria and mythological creatures, bared little resemblance to his previous films. But I liked it anyway.
Now we have mother! which is another unusal departure, although clearly a homage to iconic horror films such as The Shining, Antichrist and Repulsion. Aronofsky’s themes about death, morality and God are intact, as are his hallucinogenic visual style and scenes of violence, mass hysteria and drug addiction.
I don’t know quite what the film means. The plot is simple with little or no backstory for any of the characters. It happens almost entirely in real time, where a wealthy but isolated couple live in a huge house and whom discover the wife is pregnant. Several strangers appear at the door who the husband quickly befriends. There’s a family feud in which two brothers fight and one is killed, followed by a funeral with more strangers. The guests become increasingly weird and hostile towards the wife, who begs the husband to make them leave but refuses. The couple has an argument and everyone dissappears until the husband writes a poem that causes hundreds of fans to arrive and worship him, and which leads to more carnage and violence.
For a film as strange and allegorical as this I’m genuinely surprised Aronofsky managed to get such an A-list cast, including Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Javier Bardem and Kristen Wiig.
I can only compare it to the allegorical and psychological themes and subject matter present in The Shining and Antichrist, both of which utilise the horror movie conventions of a haunted house, but doesn’t explain or follow any logic or rational laws. The film feels like a dream through its disruption of time and space as characters dissappear and locations change from one moment to the next. It resembles a haunted house but, like The Shining, the locations and characters exist in someone’s mind and symbolise something malevolent and unconscious.
I’d spent some time contemplating why the wife in Antichrist appeared to lose her mind and become homicidal, why the husband decided to isolate her in a cabin, why she seemed obsessed with witchcraft and why she supposedly killed their infant son. One explanation is that this is the dark, transgressive side of feminism seeking revenge on her arrogant husband. Another more feasible explanation, one that relates to mother!, is that she’s not the person who’s insane and driven by destructive impulses. It’s the husband who’s trapped in this nightmare, and projects his fears and repressed anger on to his wife which causes things to go wrong.
I have to say, I didn’t enjoy mother! nearly as much either The Shining or Antichrist, despite all the great performances. Lawrance is brilliant, although like Shelley Duvall, she spends most of the film in a complete state of hysteria.